Some thoughts on presentations to an academic audience

After attending several presentations this week and what felt like a bazillion at GW – plus giving presentations at professional conferences and job interviews myself – I have a few words of advice for those unavoidable times when you find yourself giving a talk to an academic audience.  Please heed these words of advice, or consider yourself forewarned that someone in the audience will be snickering at your mistakes.  It happens.  And it ain’t pretty.

1.  Practice your talk.  And then practice again.  And then maybe run it through a third time, maybe for an audience, just to be sure.

2. While you’re at it, practice your TECH.  Invariably something will go wrong, like the projector won’t work or your file will get corrupted or you will forget your dongle or you’ll be on an unfamiliar machine.  So make sure to control whatever variables you can, and have a back up plan for those you can’t.

3. Don’t read your slides.  If you’re reading your slides, then the audience doesn’t need to read your slides, so then you don’t really need slides, now do you?  The point of the slides is to complement your talk, not to BE your talk.  And for god’s sake, don’t have OTHER PEOPLE read your slides.  I mean, it’s their job to quietly read the slide content to themselves while paying attention to your talk – not to stand up and read portions of the slide to the rest of the audience.  That’s just laziness on your part.

4. Maybe you should think about practicing your talk again now that you’ve rethought your slides.  Make sure those slides are in the right order.  And then generate a PDF of the final copy in case your slide program of choice breaks or the version on your presentation computer isn’t compatible with the new/old one on your machine.  Also maybe you should email yourself a copy or post it on Slideshare or your home institution’s repository.  Maybe you should do all of these things.  And then practice again.

Let’s talk about presentation content for a moment now, shall we?

5. Don’t rely on or even show videos unless they are central to the point of your talk.  Yes, I did just make that both bold and underlined.  This includes funny soundbites intended to make people laugh.  Really unnecessary.  Especially when the videos don’t work.

6. No handouts.  Handouts should only be distributed during your session if they are going to be used during the session.  Handouts should only be made available period if they contain materials that supplement your talk – and then you shouldn’t require anyone to take them who doesn’t want them.  Save the trees, man.

7. If you’re doing activities during your session and will be directing participants to online materials, make those links available online as well, NOT in a handout (see #6).  Don’t make your poor participants type in a bunch of mile-long URLs.  That’s just asking for trouble.

8.  And while we’re talking about mile-long URLs, please, for the love of god, check your links BEFORE your session.  Not during your session.  I guess during the session is better than not checking at all, though.

9. And on the topic of activities?  Don’t include them just to kill time.  A well-conceived activity can make a huge difference in the quality and relevance of a presentation.  A lousy one just makes you look like you don’t have enough material to fill your time slot.  If that’s the case, create more material or end early.  No one ever minds ending early.

10. The following things do not need to be explained in the context of an academic presentation:

  • what a keyword search is and how to conduct it
  • how to conduct any search where the search box is clearly labeled
  • how to click on a link
  • how your site works.  Explaining where things are or what your site contains are OK, though.
  • that something is “online on the internet” or “online on a website”

And finally:

11.  Don’t wear tight-fitting slacks made of any soft fabric.  Trust me on this one.  Have someone whose fashion sense and honesty you trust give you a once over before you leave the house.

Man Oh Man

In the last week, I have:

  • Flown from DC to Chicago
  • Read a 500+ page book
  • Took the train from Chicago to Champaign, and then back again
  • Ate my first cheeseburger in 13 years (which Ingbert toasted, appropriately, with another cheeseburger)
  • Successfully defended my thesis, the link to which will be shared soon (with thanks to all that attended the event)
  • Went to Kam’s, where Dan, Jeanne, and I consumed beers the size of our heads
  • Participated in my last LEEP on campus day as a CAS-ter.
  • Had a Symposium in my honor
  • Saw a lot of old friends and didn’t spend nearly as much time with any of them as I would have liked
  • Ate at old Champaign favorites: Jupiter’s, Kopi, Aroma, Esquire, Papa Del’s, Murphy’s, and the Courier.
  • Slept on Molly’s couch.
  • Watched the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special

And THEN I:

  • Took the 6am train to Chicago
  • Had brunch with the ladies
  • Went to a fun game store and an amazing bakery

And THEN I:

  • Took the train to the bus to Rockford
  • Slept for a ridiculous and much-needed amount of time in the very cold basement
  • Spent quality time with Gypsy
  • Saw my sister, her fiance, and their cats for the first time in more than a year
  • Visited my plaque on the Wall of Foam

And THEN I:

  • Missed my flight out of O’Hare because I thought it was at 11:10 instead of 10:10
  • Arrived in Seattle 2 hours later, thanks to the wonder of standby
  • Was joyfully reunited with Shane after being apart for a week
  • Met up with Mel, who picked us up at the airport and gave us our first taste of Seattle
  • Tried local beer at Elysian Brewery and Pike Pub & Brewery
  • Panicked a bit when our pet sitter lost his keys, which were later found
  • Killed a number of happy hours at the Pike Place Market
  • Worked on my presentation for ACRL
  • Bumped into 3 friends and counting at the conference!

I’m here in Seattle through the weekend, flying home on Monday, at which point I will not leave my house until someone MAKES me do so.  I miss my cats and my own bed and not eating expensive meals.  It’s been a pretty fantastic run, though, and the time has gone much more quickly than I expected.

!!!

In my email just now:

    Presenters:
    The proposal that you submitted at http://higheredblogcon.editme.com/ProposalsTeachingPublic has been accepted. We have a nice sampling of approaches.

    The teaching track will run first on April 3-7, 2006.
    Please submit your presentations by March 15 so that there will be time to get you feedback and make modifications.

!!!

Headed to a birthday brunch, a wedding, and then to Rockford for the weekend to celebrate my baby brother’s tenth birthday. It’s been a really nice week filled with moments that feel more like vacation than every day life. I had a really productive meeting this morning, and am feeling good about things in general, even though I have a lot of work to do.

Oh yeah, and I relocated. But then if you’re here, you already knew that.